The Great White Shark came ashore in southern Vietnam last week to cut the ribbon on one of Asia’s most eagerly anticipated golf courses — ever.
At a ceremony on the first tee at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, Australian golf icon Greg Norman officially opened his 87th design by calling it “a true links golf course” and one that has the potential to reign among the top layouts in the world.
“As you walk down the fairways and you look at all the undulations, and the greens settings — most of those are exactly the way the original form (of the land) was,” Norman told the crowd. “So it’s almost the least disturbance approach you can possibly do.”
Open for preview play since mid-March, the course has already been nominated for three Asia Pacific Golf Awards, including Best New Golf Course in Asia Pacific, Best Golf Course in Vietnam and Best Golf Course Superintendent (Ali Macfadyen).
“It’s no secret that Mr. Norman loves this style of golf course — one where the ball rolls, and where mounds and ridges can be a used to a player’s advantage,” said fellow Australian Ben Styles, the course’s general manager. “It’s just such a natural — and naturally fun — golf course.”
Norman was joined at the grand opening by former US Open champion Michael Campbell and two-time European Tour winner Robert Rock, who played a charity exhibition match with two of Vietnam’s finest female golfers — LPGA Tour pro Tang Thi Nhung and US collegiate golfing star Ngo Bao Nghi.
Rock and Tang prevailed 2-and-1, but the real winner was the course, which surrendered few birdies and left the foursome in awe.
“It’s just spectacular,” said Rock, who grew up playing in England, home to some of the world’s great links. “It’s definitely challenging, but it’s also fair. I could play here every day. That’s not something you can say about most courses.”
Routed over and around towering seaside sand dunes less than two hours from Ho Chi Minh City, The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip provides a setting and views reminiscent of southwest Ireland. The highest spot is 50 metres above sea level, on the 15th green.
One of the most breathtaking vantage points is at the par-3 4th hole, whose green is perched precariously on a bluff backdropped by miles of dense national forest, the East Sea and the 20-story Grand Ho Tram Strip, which opened in July 2013 as Vietnam's first international luxury casino resort.
Other standout holes include the par-4 8th, which plays downhill to a fairway split by a natural water feature; and the par-4 13th, whose green is partially guarded by a large, broccoli-shaped Acacia tree.
“We actually had a couple holes designed down on the water,” Norman said, “but because of future development (possibilities) — that’s obviously the highest value; you’re going to get great return on that property — we were asked to shift those holes away from there. It would’ve been great to get a hole down there. But there are great links golf course in England are not (right) on the water as well.”
The opening of The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip marks the end of the first phase of the Ho Tram Strip development, which is being implemented by the Ho Tram Project Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canada-based Asian Coast Development Ltd.
When finished, the Ho Tram Strip will include three more 5-star hotels, an oceanfront condominium tower and a discreet luxury villa community on the golf course.
Yet the combination of existing assets is already enough to make The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip an ideal venue for a tour-caliber event, according to Norman.
“There’s no question about it,” said the 59-year-old, World Golf Hall of Famer. “When we built the golf course, we didn’t build it in consideration of having a tournament. But there are a lot of things going for this place in that regard. The infrastructure is here, with the golf course and then with a magnificent hotel in The Grand across the street. When players go somewhere, what we like to have are the creature comforts, and you certainly have those here.”